Interview: Allen Valleys Folk Festival | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: The Rheingans Sisters

Allen Valleys Folk Festival aim to be the finest folk festival in the North of England has most certainly been fulfilled over six wildly successful years. It’ll be returning to the North Pennines from Friday 27th-Sunday 29th September with an array of eclectic artists and celebration of all things folk.

Internationally renowned folk group The Unthanks take on headline duties on Sunday; while winners of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, and one of Peter’s personal choices for this year’s bill, The Rheingans Sisters are set to take the stage on Saturday evening. Also performing is Turfu, a dynamic duo whose use of electronics is inspired by European music traditions. Other highlights include trad Scots Eabhal, the Celtic and bluegrass influenced The Magpies, poet and performer Rowan McCabe and duo Kate & Raphael, whose French accordion and Scottish fiddle offers up a fresh new sound.


Could you firstly tell me a little more about your involvement with constructing the Allen Valley Folk Festival line up this year?
The festival is run by Allen Valleys Promotions Ltd, a community interest company with a board of 13 volunteers. The line-up is a democratic process with choices considered from each board member. We have to balance various elements, i.e world, traditional, roots, progressive, gender. I was the inaugural festival chairman and continue in that role. My personal choices this year have been The Rheingans Sisters, Hedgehog’s Skin and Morag Brown & Lewis Powell Reid  

With the festival in its sixth year, I wondered if you had any personal highlights over the years?
Two personal highlights. The opening night of our first festival with Will Pound and Martin Stephenson. We had sold only 19 Friday tickets in advance but weekend pass holders and walk-up punters swelled numbers to capacity. My second highlight is Ezza, the soul-stirring Tuareg trio and 2017 Saturday headliners. We were split on booking them but they turned out to be outstanding with brilliant audience engagement. They had the power and instrumental brilliance of Cream.  

Also, how do you think the festival has developed over the years? Are there any aspects of the festival that are new or that have perhaps been developed this year?
At the outset, the concept of a folk festival was not well received. Over the years, we’ve worked on community engagement and the festival is now a lot more inclusive. The three local pubs now actively participate as music venues and we’ve created an iconic local event – the burning of a wooden sculpture representing the legendary Allendale wolf.      

With such a diverse line-up as well as performance poetry, fringe events and popular workshop sessions, could you tell me a little more about the importance of diversity at the festival?
Our vision statement (2015) is ‘To be the best local folk festival in the North of England, a festival that is culturally relevant, creative, diverse, enduring, distinctive and popular, with a strong sense of community’. We need diversity to cater to a variety of tastes and demographics. Each individual gets the opportunity to expand their knowledge and appreciation of folk culture.   

Could you expand a little on the aim of the festival this year to have a stronger female presence?
For the last three years Rob Kitchen, programme lead, has been passionate about gender balance, which we’ve achieved this year with equal numbers of male and female artists.

Who is tipped to be the highlights of the festival this year? Which artists on the line up you are particularly excited about?
For most people, The Unthanks will be the festival highlight. Personally, I’d like to see two of the more progressive acts – Turfu and Me & My Friends – really ignite the festival audience on Saturday night.    

Are there any of the impromptu fringe events you are specially excited about or that are tipped to be a highlight over the weekend?
The Wolf experience will be different every year and always a highlight.

Are there any workshop sessions you would like to try out yourself, or perhaps that you are excited to have as part of the festival?
Willow weaving and woodland management sound pretty good fun!





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